“I love designing shows so much I don’t sleep. Literally,” Miguel Risueño aka Mike808, Production Club‘s Creative Director and production designer excitedly tells us at the top of our interview. Dressed like he just stepped out of a ’90s hip-hop themed party from a future dimension, the man whose imagination and amazing team is low-key responsible for the stage designs of Zedd, ZHU, The Chainsmokers, and Skrillex to name just a few, Miguel is perhaps the most joyful subject we’ve ever interviewed. He comes from a pocket of late ’90s DIY hip-hop culture in Spain that strictly adhered to the principle of everyday improvement, whether it was dancing, making beats, or visual art, so Mike808 is creating designs daily whether they come in the form of an organically inspired sketch of a new idea or a full-blown 3D render of a fully fleshed out concept.
Raised in a Spanish small town of Zaragoza between Madrid and Barcelona, Miguel’s life calling was revealed to him at a very young age when, for inexplicable reasons, Kraftwerk played a show in his hometown. He tells the story best: “It was the craziest thing and I think the reason I’m in stage design is because somehow all the planets aligned so that when I was nine years old, I got to go to a Kraftwerk show. That defined a lot of my personality because first of all, nobody knows why Kraftwerk appeared in my city. They had a crazy futuristic show, a whole live thing, all the sounds and everything, and I got to hear synthesizers live for the first time. My name is Mike808 just because of the 808 drum machine, the license plate on my car is Meow808,” he laughed. Miguel loves cats and walks his on a leash every day, but we’ll get to that later. “Yeah, Kraftwerk turned my world upside down, just how synthetic it was. I was used to listening to classical and pop music and whatever was playing on the radio in Spain, then suddenly you see that and it was a brain explosion.”
His next live concert experience was Iron Maiden about a year later, and they sealed the deal on defining Miguel’s life path with a show that featured a creepy 30-foot monster character named Eddie in an electric chair that was “turned on” in a peak moment. “If Kraftwerk was crazy, this was out of this fucking world,” he said. “I felt like I wanted to see more of that, so from there I started drawing. That show stuck to my brain for years, especially when I started creating interactive installations. I used to be a DJ in Barcelona, so the first show I did with 3D mapping and lighting was actually for me. Once I created my own show, everyone started hitting me wanting to hire me to make a show for them not book my show! Which was very sad, because that was my music.” Miguel actually did sound a little sad for about half a second before quickly bouncing back, “When 10 of 10 inquiries were only about the show and not the music, I decided to embrace it. I realized I like creating things and it doesn’t matter if it’s not my music, it’s in a musical environment so sure! And also money is cool.” Although his family was skeptical about a career in the arts to say the least, that only motivated him to work harder and as he said, making money doing what you love is pretty cool.
Finding a way to take something he was naturally already great at and applying that skill-set to be of service to the culture he wanted to be part of is a prevailing theme in the story of how Miguel made it all the way from that Kraftwerk concert in Zaragoza. Another prevailing theme is following your creative gut wherever it leads, regardless of what kind of feedback you get. While attending university in Barcelona in a music technology and audiovisual media program, he partnered with visual artist Roboto to start working on the revolutionary concept to use a video game engine to power electronic music visuals. The two worked tirelessly on developing the idea all while rejected by countless artists and agencies in Spain, and it wasn’t until Roboto got in touch with Skrillex via MySpace that the idea finally found its home. “Eight years ago or so when we were exploring this, I was creating interactive installations using motion capture and real-time video applied on dancers,” Miguel said. “The idea was to create a show where the visual content doesn’t need to render because it’s being generated in real time the way video games work. We basically made a video game, but instead of playing it in that way, it goes into a show.”
Building a motion-controlled, 3D, real-time content-generating show for Skrillex in 2011 is quite literally worlds away from his childhood days painting and working with wood at his grandparents’ bakery and vineyard in Zaragoza. But long before he even had a notion about what sort of client might be interested in video game meets electronic music visual universe, Miguel had clocked hundreds of hours plotting and building out the concept. By the time it finally ended up on Skrillex’s first Mothership tour beginning August 2011, he’d all but given up on the idea ever becoming commercially viable. “We tried to sell this idea to one million agencies in Spain that were ripping us off, and nobody gave a shit,” he recalled, which is, of course, the easiest time to give up on an idea. “I had a document with literally 100 pages of references and a breakdown of how the work would be done that took me months. I dropped my job as a music teacher just to do that, and at some point Roboto said, ‘We should show this to Sonny and maybe he will make it his stage.’ So we went and met him and his manager in London.” And the rest is, as Miguel would say, literally culture-defining music history.
Without a hint of heavy-handedness, he made a casual case for ruthless perseverance, but that’s also really easy for Miguel because it seems he’s never lacking in inspiration or the enthusiasm to create. And the reputation Production Club has built over the years means they get to work with basically whoever they want. He explained that ability extends to doing one-off shows for artists they love just because they find them inspiring, “DJ Snake and Justice are talent we like and wanted to have at one of our parties, and they love the work that we do,” he said. “So on one side, we have the people we work hand-in-hand with like Chainsmokers, or ZHU, or Skrill, or Zedd, and then on the other side we get to ask, ‘Who are the people I admire that I would like to fuck with?’ Like, not forever, but maybe just once for people we’re really inspired by.” So pretty much at this stage in the game, Miguel is able to do one-off designs for A-list musical icons simply for fun and inspiration and he’s barely 30 years old — what a life. He’s also adamant throughout our interview that none of the crazy ideas his imagination produces are even conceivable without the incredible team he’s fortunate enough to be part of. “A lot of people work to make a show and its magic happen, I have to highlight our team because they are absolutely amazing.”
In addition to their music clients, Production Club also plays in the corporate space a bit, specifically hosting Amazon’s annual re:Invent conference in Vegas and throwing the closing party re:Play, described as a celebration that blends elements from music festivals, parties, theme parks, and art installations into one event. Last year’s party comfortably accommodated 25,000 people including dinner and an open bar, and according to Miguel when it comes to earning the creative trust of a major corporation, what’s possible is limited only by the team’s imagination. “We have our own style, and for whatever reason corporate trusts us a lot. We just get excited about the fact that we can come up with pretty much any idea that we want. When it comes to stuff like logos and their art, of course a corporate brand is going to be very picky. But with things like stage design, they give absolutely free reign.” Check out Production Club’s ridiculously cool recap video from last year’s incarnation of the re:Play party.
Miguel was also quick to point out that show design is the last place where he looks for inspiration for show design, preferring architecture books or fine art to spark his next breakthrough idea. “I don’t have an issue feeling inspired, but when it comes creating a new show or installation or interactive thing, I look at everything but production design,” he said. And he works, according to his official biography, with the energy of an angry kitten, which he said is a reflection of both his love for cats in general and specifically his own cat Button, as well as the rather aggressive nature with which he gives and integrates critical feedback when it comes to his work. “I take pride in being critical of the work, so I guess the angry kitty thing comes from that,” he said. Although it’s impossible to imagine him actually being angry, it is easy to see how his maniacal creative energy and knack for perfecting details could take on a frenetic, angry kitty form.
We also asked him for some advice on what anyone who wants to follow his professional path ought to be doing with their lives. “First thing is first, learn English,” he half-joked. “But no, for real. I would say watch as many shows as you can and don’t have prejudice about absolutely anything. I used to have prejudice about specific ways of working or stuff like that and now I think it’s only harmful. But find a way in which you can express what you have in your brain, that can be writing, drawing, doing 3D, sculpting, it doesn’t matter; however you can, take what’s in your brain and express it. If you can do that, it’s only a matter of time until you make something you love. And be merciless with time, even if you only have ten minutes to work on something, maybe that’s all you need. And if it sucks, oh well, keep going.”
We could sum up the crux of Miguel and Production Club’s whole success story with that singular quote: “Oh well, keep going.” When he’s not sleeping, designing shows, or running around just generally spreading joy in the world, Miguel enjoys walking his cat Button on a leash every day and listening to a ton of hip-hop and electronic music from virtually every era. Below is a grip of Miguel-curated musical and artistic selections for your enjoyment in no particular order. He left nothing out when it comes to what’s in his internet bubble of daily inspiration, so soak up these phenomenal selects that will give you more than enough top-shelf content to chew on for weeks to come. Follow Production Club on Instagram and pay a visit to the website to see what they’re cooking up and to read their hilarious team bios.
ART / LIFESTYLE
Deathburger @deathburger – Spanish comic book artist
Aryz @mr_aryz – Spanish painter/muralist
icanharem @icanharem – Bali-based fashion designer
Tetsunori @tetsunoritawaraya – Japanese visual artist
Arswandaru @arswandaru – Bali-based graphic artist
kim Jung Gi @kimjunggius – South Korean comic book artist
Pauly @Himumimdead – Australian fashion designer/street artist
Enric Sant @enricsant – Spanish painter/muralist
Art of Baker @fuckyoubaker – Australian graphic artist
Christian Pearce @p_e_a_r_c_e – Visual artist
Ben Mauro @ben_mauro – Designer/Art Director for film and games
CREATIVE CODING / CREATIVE TECHNOLOGIES
Daito Manabe @daitomanabe – Japanese dancer and movement artist
Sonar @sonarplusd – Spanish creativity and technology business conference
@zhcode – Computation/Design research group
Zach Lieberman @zach.lieberman – Visual artist/Software designer
Shohei Fujimoto @shohei_fujimoto – Japanese lighting/Motion graphics/Installation artist
Steve Duda @steve_duda – American sonic wizard
Can Buyukberber @cbuyukberber – Turkish immersive audiovisual installation artist
@nonotakstudio – Lighting/Immersive installation artists
Justice Live set
Tycho’s 2018 Burning man set
Durante’s MixMag Lab set
Team EZY’s OWSLA WW broadcast mix
Skrill’s Coachella Set 2015
mussorgsky pictures at an exhibition (lol)
Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.5 (double lol)
Anything Ninja Tune
Anything old school from Pandisc or Debonaire Records
DJ Krush new stuff on repeat ZHU’s new stuff
Anything Solid Steel
Olafur Eliasson @studioolafureliasson – Danish/Icelandic installation/ sculptures/painting/photographic/architecture/film/public space artist
Mad architects @madarchitects – Chinese Earth/Art landscape and structural architects
Bureau Betak @bureaubetak – Like a Production Club but for fashion, crazy attention to detail
teamLab @teamlab_news – Interactive installation design by ultratechnologists exploring a new relationship between humans and nature
David Umemoto @david_umemoto – Canadian sculptor/architect